(photo by Jessica Mills)
Ever since I was a young girl, (that’s me in the blue shirt) perhaps because I browsed regularly through the National Geographic magazines that my Aunt and Uncle gave my family each year for Christmas, I have wanted to visit the Amazon. To be honest, it might also be due to my childhood crush on Tarzan (AKA Johnny Weismuller!) No matter the reason, it was a quick decision, once I had decided to lead a group with G Adventures to Peru to hike the Inca Trail, to also add a post 3 night stay in the Tambopata Eco Lodge with G. This blog entry will share our experiences, although words will not do it justice. The five of us undoubtedly each took away memories that will not easily leave our mind. My friend Gretchen shared with me that after our return, she would awaken each morning with a certainty that she was still in her cozy jungle hut.
For those of you who prefer a more scientific slant, you may read more about the Amazon here.
The journey begins with an airport (PEM-Puerto Maldonado) pick-up. Our guide Joseph and his driver had our names spelled out on a board, so we immediately felt cared for. A short drive followed to the G headquarters, which was a room next to a little locally-owned shop selling supplies, and we were given a duffel for the things we wished to bring for the 3-night stay. Those were loaded either under or on top of the vehicles. Our luggage was checked into a secure room and off we went. We hadn’t noticed until the return that we were accompanied on both ends of our caravan by police vehicles. It’s a very poor region…I suspect that perhaps there have been some banditos in the past that they wished to avoid!
I would guess the drive through the countryside took about 1 hour or so. We had decent flushing toilets on both ends of this transfer, and then the 2-3-hour boat ride down river to the lodge began. The boat was comfortable, and we were required to wear life jackets on this and all other safaris. They had a nice mesh back, so they were not too restrictive or hot. As the sun went down it was quite cool, surprisingly, and most of us donned a sweater or jacket to cut the wind.
(courtesy of Jessica Mills)
A lucky sighting: a 3 meter long Black Caiman (they can be up to 6 meters!) was sunning along the river. Edwin, the second guide for a larger group, said they don’t see them very often and they are rare and protected now. Poachers are severely punished. There were butterflies licking the salt from his eyes…very pretty! We saw a turtle, snowy egret, several Capybaras (the largest rodent on the planet) playing in the mud together, a toucan flying above us, and some macaws. Not a bad collection of firsts for me! After a wonderfully delicious dinner, we took a guided walk around the lodge paths, learning about some of the creatures in the night.
It was a gorgeous sunny day, and we were assigned a table with our guide for dining each meal. The eggs were deliciously fresh, and the papaya even better. Our 6:30 breakfast was easy to handle, as we all hit the pillow pretty early the night before. The sounds of the crickets had lulled me into a DEEP sleep, and the bird calls provided a gentle wake-up. We hadn’t felt a need for the mosquito netting which is provided, as we were not seeing the pests at all!
After fitting our rain/hiking boots for the muddy trails, off we went by boat to a trail hike of about 4 miles. (If you have any foot issues, you might consider bringing an insert along for this). Leaf cutter ants were fascinating to watch, as were the huge trees, a beautiful snake, and bird calls provided us with lots of entertainment. The ant colonies and mounds were plentiful. The experience will be different for each of you. I will share that I felt such an overwhelming sense of peace with each moment of this experience. I may have turned inward a bit as I fought a cold and felt low energy, and I enjoyed the mindfulness of each step.
Our hike brought us to a small lake where we fed piranhas and sardines, and a yellow and blue macaw flew directly over us as we watched with our mouths open. So pretty in flight! Just a short walk down a path from our rooms was a riverbed. The cool water and sandy bottom provided a nice afternoon break. We were treated to another wonderful dinner, then the evening hike revealed to us an armadillo, as well as a tarantula that Joseph teased out into the video light so we could get him on digital camera. Cool!
The nature experiences here all ran together in my mind…tho I had taken notes about the animals and the plants, it still felt a little bit like I was on another planet while in the Peruvian rainforest. One special excursion had us taking another short boat ride up river to the land of a local farmer who lives alone on his land on the Tambopata River without his family because he can no longer compete with the government pricing for his fruits and other produce. G Adventures has “adopted” him by bringing us to learn about the fruit he grows. We learned about and tasted grapefruit, tangelos, bananas, Noni, avocados, cinnamon, paprika, cacao, oranges, etc. One sad thing: The farmer had three dogs just a few weeks before we visited, but two were killed by a jaguar. Mancha and I bonded in the short time we were there. He looked like an Australian Shpherd and did figure 8s much like my Bearded Collie did when she was young!
Time there moved so quickly, and yet my blood pressure had probably never been lower. The beds were comfy, the water pressure in the shower was strong, and there was plenty of fresh, clean water to fill your bottles with (don’t brush your teeth with the water in the sink…they provide a pitcher in room.) The bar area was being renovated during our visit, and it’s going to be a really nice gathering area! Since the mosquitoes were practically non-existent, we relaxed after hiking or dinner on the large wrap-around porch with our beer or wine. Spirits were available as well.
Up at 6 and to breakfast at 6:30, our trek this day was a more difficult 8 miles round trip to a large lake (Kachabacaya). You will be given a choice to do a shorter hike, but I strongly suggest doing this one. We were able to track four different families of monkeys, each a different species! I was a little surprised when Joseph dropped into the jungle and began hacking with his machete, but we followed along like little puppies. I found this website about Amazon monkeys very interesting. It is for you monkey fans like me!
“Seeing” these creatures proved to be pretty difficult, as they love to live high up in the canopy, many feet in the air. We chased four species: Howler, the loudest mammal on earth, Dastiti, tho I can’t seem to find this, so I think Joseph used a local name?, Capuchin, the brown variety, and the Squirrel Monkey. Of course, there are several varieties of each, and no clue which we were tracking. They seemed to enjoy the chase each time we followed, jumping from branch to branch and making noises to each other, seemingly laughing at us as we strained to get a glimpse each time!
I believe this excursion was the highlight of my jungle trip. The boat ride through the marshes in search of anaconda was thrilling, as was the beautiful reflection off the water as we glided past lily pads and water flowers. There were butterflies galore, gorgeous insects, and so many amazing bird calls to provide a symphony as we watched for flora and fauna.
We spotted a tiger heron and got video of the “Stinky Bird”, a turkey-like beast. We got a glimpse of the Chestnut Frond Macaw, one of the smallest of the species. Our guide took a photo of all five of us inside a tree they call a “Strangler” tree…it chokes out a large tree then grows up, so the middle is hollow! We watched with fascination the Leaf-Cutter ant colonies, who can march in single file for a kilometer or more with gusto. If you enjoy nature, you will love this adventure.
Heading back to Lima, you will leave around 8 am by boat back to meet your van/bus to retrieve your luggage. The ride was quiet, and I suspect all of us were ready to get home after such a long journey. Remember, we had already hiked the Inca Trail, so in all our trip was 10 nights in length. Reflecting on of the natural beauty was lovely, and I was grateful to have been able to share it with my friends. I had no regrets whatsoever and would do it again with G Adventures.
When we landed in Lima at about 4 pm, we arranged for a private driver (Thanks, Martin!) who took us to Miraflores to a mall by the ocean for one last Peruvian meal, and then to see the beautiful light/water fountain show at a city park. Check out the cool photo he took of us below! Our flight home on Delta was at 1:00 am, so you can bet that our own pillows felt great the next evening!
I added a few of my favorite pics from the Amazon below. Enjoy! Peace, Bobbie